Saturday, 31 December 2011

What has become of Light Pens ?

In the 1980's we had high hopes for the future of light pens, but I had't seen one for many years, until a bank asked me to sign on a screen with one.

The problem seems to be price. An internet search suggested prices of the order of 150 dollars, much much more than even a very elaborate mouse.

Friday, 30 December 2011

Early Flowers

I've just noticed that my daphne is coming into flower. It usually flowers early in the year, around February or March, but I don't recall it ever flowering as early as this.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

A Quiet Christmas Eve

I was surprised how quiet it was in the city centre this afternoon. Despite the fine weather there were far fewer people milling about than on a normal Saturday, and many shops were almost empty.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Legislative ‘Truth’

Yesterday I read a news flash to the effect that the French National Assembly has legislated to make it illegal to deny that the 1915 massacre of Armenians by Turkish soldiers was genocide.

‘genocide’ is a slippery term with no precise generally accepted precise, and there is room for differences of interpretation. This legislation makes it illegal to discuss the question in France. It also makes any assertions that the massacre was genocide worthless if they are made in France, because anyone there expressing that opinion might be doing so for fear of punishment, not out of conviction, and the judgement could not be tested in open debate.

Indeed, it I hard to understand how the legislators could have made the decision they did, unless they thought the judgment of genocide was open to doubts that they wished to suppress.

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Christmas Cards

This year I decided not to send any Christmas cards. Eventually I did send a few, mostly to accompany presents, but the total must be in single figures.

For a long time I’ve been irritated by the way the postal service is swamped by pieces of expensive cardboard, so that letters that matter are delayed. More recently I started to wonder what Christmas cards are supposed to achieve.

When I started to send my own cards, in my mid teens so far as I can recall, I sent them to friends and relatives - people I met quite frequently. However, once one starts exchanging cards with someone, the annual exchange tends to continue indefinitely, even when one gradually loses touch, and the card exchange is all that is left.

I find it most depressing to receive annual reminders of people whose company I used to enjoy, but who gradually stopped answering my letters and emails, yet still add the gloom of mid December by tantalising me with reminders of lost friendships.

There is also the custom of sending annual letters. Those are often quite interesting, but to have them all arrive around the same time makes it a considerable chore to reply to them all as I’d like to.

Perhaps we could spread out the illumination through the year by all writing annual letters on our birthdays, though as I use this blog for the sort of news most people put in those letters, I don’t need to write one at all.

Incidentally I can arrange for entries in this blog to be automatically emailed to up to ten people, so anyone who’d like that service just has to let me know.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Late Harvest

This morning I gathered some apples from my Bramley apple tree. The fruits seemed unharmed by the few light frosts we've had so far this year.

I don't recall ever before gathering anything edible so late in the year.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Disintegrating Socks

I've recently been surprised how quickly my socks develop holes. I buy socks in packets of half a dozen or so, yet a packet seems to last only a few months.

I think that next time I buy a packet I shall record the life of its contents.

In what strange ways do we pensioners while away our twilight years !!

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Intermittent Inspiration

My entries in this blog tend to cluster. There are periods of a week or two when I post nothing here, and other periods when I think of something almost every day.

I noticed something similar when I was writing my Philosophy notes, now almost complete, by the way. There were periods when I wrote very little, and others when I scribbled away in almost every spare moment.

Some would say the periods of apparent inactivity are occupied by unconscious thought, when something or other is going on in my mind without my knowledge.

Assuming that mind = brain, I'm sure lots goes on in my mind without my being aware of it, but I not at all sure that such unobserved activity is a continuation of concious thought.

The hypothesis of unconscious thought is empty unless it can be supported by observations independent of the train of later concious thought the unconscious is supposed to explain.

I'm inclined to investigate theories of the unconscious.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Overdoing the underwear.

From time to time I hear comments about Mormon Underwear. Yesterday I investigated and found the following link:


Sunday, 27 November 2011

A Contemprary Commonplace Book

It recently struck me that a blog resembles the commonplace books people used to keep, in which they would record any events or quotations that struck them as interesting, and any thoughts that came into their heads, occasionally adding little illustrations.

The principal difference is that blogs are usually public, or at least usually accessible by a moderately large audience, whereas a commonplace book would often be read only by the author and possibly the author's descendants, but there's still a great similarity.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Late Autumn Colour

I've just walked round the garden checking which plants are in flower. I found plants of 14 different species in flower, the total number of individual plants was considerably greater. I also found 3 different species displaying colourful berries.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Using Fallen Apples

I usually have lots of spare cooking apples at this time of year. Large unblemished apples I wrap individually in newspaper and store, but there are lots of apples that fall out of the tree and won't keep because they are bruised.

I usually cut out any bad bits, peel and core them, cook them down to a pulp, freezing what I don't want to eat immediately.

Usually I sweeten the apple pulp by mixing with home made jam, so I get a sort of stewed mixed fruit, most of which I eat with my afternoon yoghurt.

This year I thought of using apple to make preserves.

The thought came to me when I spotted bowls of apricots offered at £1-00 in the market. My bowl had 650 g of apricots, so I added the same mass of apple pulp and made it into jam.

It set extremely well, or course. The popular setting agent sold as certo is made from apple juice.

That was a couple of days ago; today it occurred to me that apple could be substituted for marrow in Ginger Marmalade. After all, the marrow functions mainly as a neutral substrate around which a gingery jelly forms. Once again, the stuff set well. I still haven't decided whether to label the result Ginger Marmalade or Apple and Ginger Jam

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Wishful Statistics

Imperial Tobacco has just produced a paper claiming that there is no statistically significant evidence that passive smoking is a danger to health. The company does not refer to any investigation conducted by itself, but simply criticises other studies, mainly because investigators did not themselves measure the period of exposure to second hand smoke, or the intensity of atmospheric pollution, but relied on estimates by sufferers.

Direct measurements would be hard to make, but lack of them does not imply that we have no reason to consider passive smoking dangerous. The dangers of smoking are well established, so it is a reasonable inference that inhaling the same noxious substances in a diluted form would be attended by similar, though probably smaller dangers.

People who like smoking and are selfish enough to smoke even when that makes life unpleasant for others may manage to deceive themselves into believing that passive smoking is harmless. I only wish smoking also produced sterility so that such people would have no children to inhale their fallout.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Three for the Price of Two

Quite a few shops are making such offers, especially for pretty packages of odds and ends intended as Christmas presents.

So many items are covered by such offers that I doubt if they are what are called 'loss leaders' and suspect that the profit margin is so high that selling three items for the price of two makes more profit than selling just one item.

A little algebra, which I leave as an exercise for the reader, establishes that that implies that the profit in selling a single item is more than half the price charged.

Impulsive shoppers should take care!!

Saturday, 19 November 2011

Unsound Businesses

We often hear complaints that businesses cannot afford to borrow money, yet interest rates offered to lenders are below the inflation rate, indicating that real interest rates are negative. Thus borrowers are repaying less than they borrow.

Businesses that that can't afford to repay what they borrow must be destroying value, instead of creating it, and shouldn't be in business at all.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Autumn Fruits

This morning I gathered quite a few ripe tomatoes, in three different colours (red, yellow and green), from plants in my greenhouse. The plants are dying now, so there won't be much more fruit, but it was still gratifying to be able to gather them so late in the year.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

The Residues of Bonfire Night

There seemed to be fewer fireworks hereabouts, and I didn't find the usual bits of rocket scattered around the garden, and it wasn't until I put washing out to dry this morning that I noticed the soot on the washing line.

I always wipe the washing line with a damp kitchen towel before pegging out my washing. Usually that leaves just faint stripes of grime on the towel; today the stripes were thick and black.

Oddly enough, no such effect was noticeable when I wiped the line on Sunday 6th, so the black stuff must have been floating around for a while before it settled, giving it time to accumulate in the lungs of innocent non-users of fireworks.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Changing a Light Bulb in Leicester

I've been using long life bulbs for about 20 years, but notice that we are now discouraged from putting spent bulbs in the dustbin.

In Leicester we are offered a choice of two Community Recycling Centres.

One is near Freemen's Common (misspelt as 'Freemans Common' on the Council Leaflet) which is two bus journeys away from me. The other is on Bridge Road. I might be lucky there because there's a Bridge round about a mile from my house. On the other hand I might be unlucky; the other Bridge Road is about 4 miles and two bus journeys away.

Whichever Bridge Road it is, most people in Leicester could not get to either recycling centre in fewer than two bus journeys.

I wonder how many dispose of their light bulbs in the manner recommended

Saturday, 22 October 2011

Don't Underetimate Clothes

I just watched a television interview with someone who found it difficult to pay his fuel bill. I noticed that he was wearing an open necked shirt, but no pullover or jacket.

Today many people keep their houses much hotter than necessary and walk around half dressed.

I sometimes think central heating is to be regretted.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

One thing Leads to Another

When a recent television news programme showed a footballer called 'Wayne Rooney' kicking another footballer, I thought 'I bet he wouldn't be any good at flower arranging'.

It was a surprising association of ideas, because there was nothing about flowers in that programme, and I handn't been thinking about them before I watched the programme.

Perhaps there is a primitive inclination to connect similar things, and to infer that something ugly, like Master Rooney, could not produce something beautiful like a flower arrangement. Certainly Philosophers have often claimed that an effect ought to resemble its cause. I think that assumption unwarranted.

Perhaps if only Wayne Rooney took up flower arranging he would excel, and at the same time become less unpleasant.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Valuing People

Israelis and Palestinians have agreed to exchange 1027 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel for one Israeli held prisoner by Palestinians.

It appears that both sides agree that one Israeli is worth 1027 Palestinians.

One can understand that some Israelis might make that evaluation, but it is very revealing that Palestinian authorities agree.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Bored by Political thought

I'm revising my Notes on Philosophy chapter by chapter and am now wrestling with Politics, and am finding it very boring.

To a considerable extent political thought involves creating elaborate systems of fallacious argument to provide a smokescreen for bossy people to tell other people what to do, and to give themselves an excuse doing so with self righteous pomposity.

Worst of all, many of them seem to be so stupid that they believe it.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Muddled media

Neutrinos appears to have travelled slightly faster than light. BBC reports suggest that that refuted

e = mc2

which connects energy to mass, yet the observations have no direct relevance to that, what they do challenge in the Lorentz Transformation.

A general revision of the theory of relativity might involve changes in many formulae accepted today, but it it too early to jump to the conclusion that e = mc2 is one of those.

Friday, 16 September 2011

Distracted by Sex

The revision of my notes on Philosophy recently reached the chapter on Ethics, and I realised that there was nothing there about sex.

That's not as surprising as it might seem, because much pontification about sex consists of proposals to apply to sexual behaviour special rules and restrictions that are not applied to other behaviour, while I think that the same general rules apply to any behaviour. However there are things that need to be said, if only to repudiate superfluous pseudo-morality.

I've now done it. See the revised chapter 8 on the Philosophy page for the result.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Early Christmas

I went into a card shop today, looking for birthday cards, and found that about half the display space was taken up by Christmas Cards.

Perhaps we should have Christmas right away and get it over.

We could enliven the end of December with a revived Saturnalia.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

A New Type of Aphorism

I recently came across this faux proverb:

A pizza without anchovies is like an egg without a moustache

So much of what people say solemnly is similarly mad, but less obvious.

If only I were creative I might try to write a story entitled The egg that lost its moustache

Monday, 29 August 2011

In Praise of Flat Peaches

I recently bought some unusually shaped peaches. The are roughly disk shaped. One market stall compared them to doughnuts.

I liked them very much. They were ripe sweet, and easily skinned.

I prefer peaches skinned because I don't share the cats' liking for furry food.

I strongly recommend flat peaches.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

More Philosophy

My Philosophy notes continue to distract me from other things.

I've just edited two more chapters so I've now checked this first six chapters this Summer. The latest versions are now on my web site

Thursday, 18 August 2011


Earlier this week I noticed that I was no longer receiving automated nuisance messages by telephone, and enjoyed the freedom from interruption.

Then, yesterday evening, a friend appeared unannounced to ask if I were still alive - he'd been getting no reply to phone calls, and is the only member of my circle who has no Internet access.

It turns out that my phone line is out of order, so, reluctantly, I've sent for Virgin Engineers to restore the normal level of interruption.

I could almost manage without a telephone - but not quite.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

An Ill-informed Spell Checker

Earlier today I made a comment about C. S. Peirce on an American website, and the spell checker objected to the spelling. I assume it was an American spell-checker, so it seemed very odd that it should not be able to spell the name of America's most distinguished Philosopher.

I notice that the spell checker on this site can't spell it either.

Alas for America !!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Wider screens with more discriminating owners

I've just checked my web site statistics for the last three months, and found that only about 3% of visitors have screens less than 1000 pixels wide, and only 33.6% used Microsoft Internet Explorer, though that was still the most popular browser, with Chrome and Firefox close behind.

I've designed the picture pages of my site to accommodate screens just over 800 pixels wide; I'm thinking of redesigning them so there will be less empty space on wider screens. Fortunately I've written a special style sheet for pages with lots of pictures

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Philosophy Revised

My excuse for my recent neglect of this blog is pre-occupation with a revision my Philosophy notes.

I've started at the beginning and corrected, and in a few places extended, the first four chapters. The revised versions are on my website here.

I should be especially interested to hear from anyone who tries the logic exercise in Chapter 2.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Bankrupt States

When individuals or companies go bankrupt, their assets are administered, and usually sold, by agents of the creditors to pay as high a proportion as possible of the debt.

States are treated with surprising leniency. Discussion of the possibility of a Greek default rarely mentions the sale of Greek Government assets, yet those must be considerable.

Governments usually own many buildings in prime city centre sites and considerable tracts of land. Military installations alone take up considerable space.

It would be amusing to see all that auctioned by the liquidators.

Monday, 18 July 2011

Plumbers Beware!!

I was unhappy to learn that the recent turmoil in the Metropolitan Police Force has resulted in a promotion for Ms. Cressida Dick.

It was she who presided over an anti-terrorist operation in the course of which armed police arrived three and a half hours late, and made up for lost time by shooting a plumber.

Should that become the standard way of dealing with crises, Londoners with blocked pipes may find it hard to get anyone to unblock them.

Friday, 15 July 2011

The Korean Alphabet

At a recent meeting of the Leicester U3A a visiting speaker talked about South Korea.

What most impressed me was what he told us about the Korean Alphabet This was apparently designed so that each letter represented the physical process by which we make the corresponding sound.

Saturday, 9 July 2011

What is the point of Mascarpone Cheese?

Curiosity recently led me to buy a carton of mascarpone Cheese.

It tasted like cream, with the addition of just a hint of cheese. For many purposes it would be an acceptable alternative to cream or even to butter.

It seems to go well with jam, and when I spread some on a slice of bread it formed a perfectly good basis for my breakfast marmalade,

However, at £2-25 of 250 grams, it costs nearly £10 per kilo, much more expensive than cream, butter, or marg.1, so what is the point of it?

1 note that the pseudo abbreviation 'marge' is plausible only to people who can't spell 'margarine'

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Muddle about Osmosis.

Quiite frequently I hear someone claim that either that person, or people in general, have aquired some idea 'by osmosis'

Osmosis is a process occurring when two solutions of different concentrations are separated by a semi-permeable membrane, that is a membrane that allows the passage of solvent but not solute.

I see no analogy between that process and the transfer of ideas from one person to another.

As ignorance about osmosis seems to be widespread, I add a short explanation.

In osmosis, solvent usually moves from the dilute solution into the more concentrated, tending to equalise the concentrations. The process can be stopped, or even reversed, by applying pressure to the more concentrated solution. The pressure needed to just prevent osmosis between a solution on the one hand, and pure solvent on the other, is called the osmotic pressure of the solution.

Solutions we regard as quite dilute may have surprisingly high osmotic pressures. The osmotic pressure of sea water is around 27 atmospheres, that is around 2.7 million pascals.

Osmosis involving the transport of water is very important in the operation of living things.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Virgin Media in a tizzy

Two friends who use email addresses reported trouble with email much of which was being misdiagnosed as spam.

Although I have an ntl email address I don't use it, but I decided to log on to my ntl account and inspect the mail. Examining the spam box I found just one message - an email from Virgin Media telling me about a new security system they've just introduced.

Meditate carefully on the situation.

The software designed to secure their email system suppresses the messages they have sent out to tell us about it.

At this point I ought to say something rude about virginity, but words fail me.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Non-Industrial Inaction

I can't remember for how long people have said 'industrial action' when they mean 'strike'.

'Industrial action' conjures up in my mind's eye a picture of labourers marching on Whitehall brandishing their sledgehammers and crowbars but the current strikers are mostly office workers and teachers.

Let's call it what is is: 'non-industrial inaction' or just 'strike'

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Fruit is early this year.

I've just made my first batch of redcurrant jelly.

For as long as I can remember, I've done that in the first week of July, so this year's redcurrants have ripened a fortnight earlier than usual.

I'm tempted to attribute the change to the warm Spring, though generalisation on the basis of one example is a very risky induction.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Guilty Consciences?

Philip Davies MP recently suggested that one consequence of minimum wage legislation is that it is much harder than it would otherwise be for handicapped people to get jobs, and he went on to say that some mentally handicapped people had told him that they would be prepared to work for a lower wage if that would secure them a job.

The reaction was an astonishing tirade of abuse and vituperation.

I suspect the anger was partly a screen for guilty consciences.

Increasing the cost of anything is likely to reduce demand for it, so raising minimum wages is likely to produce more unemployment. Supporters of the minimum wage may consider it has other advantages that outweigh that disadvantage, but anyone who thinks we can avoid the disadvantages altogether must be numbered among the drippy optimists who think we need only pass a law to make all things bright and beautiful.

I notice a spokesman for ‘Mind’ denounced the suggestion as ‘preposterous’. It is easy to understand how employees of that charity might feel uncomfortable at the prospect of some of their dependents getting jobs and thereby becoming less dependent. There might then be fewer jobs for employees of ‘Mind’

Friday, 17 June 2011

Secret denunciation

The member of Parliament for North West Leicestershire was recently accused of a sexual attack on a 29 year old woman. The accusation was reported widely.

Today it was announced that no proceedings will be taken.

Although the accused was named, the identity of his accuser remains a secret.

I think it is in the public interest that people who make unfounded accusations be named, so that that anyone meeting them can be on their guard, and take care not to be alone in their company, or otherwise give them an opportunity to manufacture an embarrassing accusation.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Wanderers on the Web

I have two web sites I don't use - the one that comes with my cix subscription, and the one that is bundled with my broadband Internet Access. The latter site proved unreliable, and the former has a capacity of only 5 MB.

I have used them in the past, but in neither case for more than a year, and their index pages just provide a link to the website I do use, yet there are still visitors, typically around four per month. I wonder what attracts them?

Tuesday, 14 June 2011


I've just sorted out and browsed through a heap of old diaries. I have diaries for every year from 1969 onwards, and it's fascinating to recall what I did all those years ago.

I've always used diaries mainly to record appointments, not to provide a narrative of events, but there's still a lot of information, including visits to and from people I can't remember at all.

Monday, 13 June 2011

C. S. Peirce, Logician, Scientist and Pragmatist.

I recently gave a talk with that title at a meeting of the Leicester U3A Science and Technology Group.

The text is now on my website; follow this link

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Time to Revive Latin ?

Text messaging and tweeting require brevity, at which Latin excels. Let it be revived!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Is Dr. Who Improving ?

I'd almost given up hope that Dr. Who would ever again be worth watching, and missed the second episode of the present series, but I watched the third episode and thought it showed some promise. It was a little confusing, but that was only to be expected when I'd missed the previous episode. Once again the story contains puzzles that are revealed a bit at a time, and things are not what they seem. I plan to watch the next episode.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

A Hesitant Genius

Inspired by an article in this week's Economist, I've tried out the online cyber genius Wolfram Alpha.

When I asked for the elasticity of demand for sugar, it just supplied nutritional information, and when I asked 'Is there a God?' it refused to answer.

I was very disappointed !!

Friday, 3 June 2011

Epson's Trojan Horse.

I have an Epson SX200 Printer, which usually works well.

I often save money by using compatible ink cartridges made by other companies. There's no difficulty in installing such cartridges but on two occasions a compatible cartridge has stopped working when not empty - when I shook it I heard the remaining ink sloshing about inside.

A chap at a computer shop said this problem is created by software that Epson downloads under the guise of keeping the system up to date, and advised re-installing the printer and making sure I don't consent to any suggestion that I should permit anything at all to be downloaded by the printer software.

The attempt to introduce the Trojan Horse is not made during installation, but when one starts to print. Even though I selected the box that said 'do not show this screen again' it reappeared next time I printed.

Anyone frugal person with an Epson printer should be on their guard all the time.

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Fiddly Forms

A long time ago I experimented with forms and after some messing about managed to get one working on my website - just to prove I could.

I now actually need a form to provide feedback from visitors to the U3A Open day in August. I therefore put an experimental form on my own website but it couldn't find the cgi file to which data was to be sent.

Eventually I solved the problem by shortening the path, but that is odd.

I now have two forms on web pages in the same directory, each sending data to a file in my_website/cgi-bin, yet one form successfully uses the full path, while the other can only locate its cgi file if given the shortened path: /cgi-bin/filename.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Googler Chrome appears not to be case sensitive

I recently wrote several linked web pages, with file names beginning with a capital.

When I put links in the pages, I absent mindedly spelt the file names entirely in lower case, yet when I tested the links with Chrome they worked.

That doesn't seem to be a very good idea!!!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Failing an Intelligence Test

I regard the referendum on the Alternative Vote as an intelligence test for the British electorate.

The electorate failed.

A slight consolation is that the affair has suggested a way of spoiling my ballot paper when I'm not not enthusiastic about any candidate. I can number the candidates in the order of my preference, as if we were using the Alternative vote.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Electing a Mayor

This year Leicester elects a Mayor. There were nine candidates, yet none of them sent me an election address.

Apart from official stuff - a poll card and an explanation of the Alternative vote, I had just two pieces of election literature, one from the Conservatives, and one from Labour, both asking me to vote for their City Council candidates. The Conservative leaflet also asked me to vote for the Conservative Mayoral candidate. The Labour Candidate didn't mention the Mayoral election at all.

I wonder if that is connected with past differences between the Labour Mayoral candidate, and the local Labour MP - Keith Vaz, PC MP

Incidentally, in the mayoral election we were allowed to give a second choice. That is a step in the direction of the Alternative vote, yet there has been no referendum on the question. I doubt if there was any need for a referendum over AV either.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

How Dangerous are the Supporters of Small Parties

The leaflet sent to me by the No to AV Campaign protests that AV would allow the supporters of small parties to decide the results of elections.

That claim is not supported by any analysis of election results, or by any other evidence. I suspect it is based on an assumption that all or nearly all the supporters of a minority party might give their second preferences to the less popular of the two most popular parties, thus enabling that party’s candidate to win. I doubt that assumption.

References to the BNP suggest there is an assumption that the supporters of some small parties are not the sort of people who should be allowed to decide election results. Yet how can they be prevented from doing so ? Any with a strong preference for one of the larger parties rather than the another could exercise that preference and so help to decide the result under the First Past the Post system. They just need to ignore their own party’s candidate and vote for the candidate of whichever of the larger parties they find least objectionable. In the many constituencies where a particular small party has no candidate, its supporters either vote for someone else, or don't vote at all. If they vote for some else, they might influence the election result.

Perhaps some of the ‘no’ folk hanker after some way of disenfranchising those whose opinions they consider unsound.

Saturday, 30 April 2011

Preffered Preferences

The 'No to the Alternative Vote' campaign objects that AV would give the same weight to low preferences as to the first preference, whereas, they argue, the first preference must be the most important.

I disagree.

Although some of our preferences may be more important to us than others, the most important need not be the first. I think it will quite often not be.

I divide the candidates competing for my vote into three groups: the tolerable, the merely intolerable, and the unspeakable. So for me the most important preferences are those that separate the tolerable from the intolerable, and the intolerable from the unspeakable.

Conversation with acquaintances suggests that I am far from alone in my approach, and I cannot believe that those campaigning against AV are unaware that for many people the most important preference is not the first. To argue as they do they must be dishonest.

Friday, 29 April 2011

Elections, Majorities and Strong Government

Reflecting on the sad record of government misbehaviour, I’m inclined to prefer that they should be weak. The ‘No to the Alternative Vote’ campaign thinks otherwise. It wants one party governments with an overall parliamentary majority, and thinks we are more likely to get those with the present First Past The Post (henceforth FPTP) system than with the Alternative Vote (henceforth AV)

However, although majority one party government may be less likely with AV, it would not be impossible, while FPTP frequently fails to produce that supposedly desired state.

Were it vital to have a single party majority, that would suggest changing the system to make sure that is achieved, possibly by giving additional parliamentary seats to the largest party. I wouldn’t support that, but it does seem to be a consequence of the No Campaign’s argument.

From their point of view it might not even be the most popular party that received the majority.

In 1951 FPTP gave a parliamentary majority to the Conservatives, even though they received fewer votes than Labour, and in February 1974, although no party had an overall parliamentary majority, Labour formed a minority government after winning more seats than the Conservatives even though they had fewer votes.

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Engrossed in HTML

I've spend most of the last two days happily engrossed in adding another page of pictures to my web site.

Pottering about renaming and resizing pictures is surprisingly satisfying.

Now I've created the new page, I need to persuade someone to look at it.

This blog is my first attempt.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

The Alternative Vote

On both sides of the controversy claims are exaggerated. The proposed change in our voting system is likely to have only modest effects.

AV will not make it impossible for a single party to have a majority, though it will make it a little less likely for a parliamentary majority to be obtained by a party that does not have either a majority of the total vote, or a commanding lead over its nearest rival.

In individual constituencies, AV would not entirely prevent the election of a candidate the majority of the electorate finds objectionable but it would make it less likely.

I support AV for three reasons.

(1) It would allow me to give more information about my preferences. If there are n candidates the present system allows only n ways of validly filling in a ballot paper. AV would permit n! ways. For instance if there were 6 candidates, there would be 720 ways of filling in an AV ballot paper, compared with only 6 under the present system.

(2) It would require the authorities to pay more attention to my preferences, because many ballot papers would have to be inspected several times, instead of just once.

(3) By getting the electorate accustomed to numbering the candidates in order of preference, it would prepare the way for the Single Transferable Vote in Multi-member constituencies, the electoral system that seems to me the best that has so far been devised.

I plan to follow this posting with several others examining various misconceptions.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Praising Salt

An old folk story, used by Shakespeare in King Lear, tells of a conceited King who urged his daughters to say how much they loved him.

The two eldest daughters having exhausted the resources of conventional flattery, the youngest daughter just said 'I love you as meat loves salt'

Only later, when served meat with no salt, did the King understand.

For a while I've been complaining about the tastelessness of salads, especially of tomatoes. Then I realised that I no longer added salt. With a little salt the flavour has returned.

I wonder if the health fanatics will try to ban the reading of King Lear in schools ?

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

A Victory Over Obscure Instructions

After several days of anguish I have at last managed to copy pictures and other material into my computer from my new LGC300 mobile phone.

When I tried to use Bluetooth, I got no further than pairing phone and computer. Every attempt to send anything in either direction produced a 'pointer error'. As mobile phone users have no access to pointers that is an extremely silly message.

I then bought a USB connector, which failed to send data in either direction except for the phone's name and 'address'. Eventually I realised that software might be needed, found the manufacturer's site and installed everything I could find. I installed a driver, and then performed an arcane operation which I later realised had brought up to date the firmware in the phone, and finally, today, spotted something that had been downloaded but not installed,and which turned out to be the 'PC Suite' which enables one to copy the contents of the phone to the PC.

The feeling of triumph when one gets such things to work, is almost enough to make the agony of the struggle worthwhile, but perhaps not quite enough.

In case a fellow sufferer is reading this, I'd better say that the key website is: and one needs to install:


Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Google Chrome Clings to its Cache

It's sometimes hard to get Google Chrome to clear its cache and present the latest version of a web site.

When I've changed a web site I want to check that the new version is actually on the site. Sometimes, even after I've pressed the 'refresh' button, and Chrome has done its dither and flicker, the old version still appears, when I know the new version is there because I can see it with Seamonkey.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

A Surfeit of Ephemera

Last Saturday, and the Saturday before, I was given a free copy of the Times when I bought the Economist. I'm now about to put both copies of the Times in my recycling bin, unread.

I read The Economist every week, and I listen to broadcast news programmes. There is so much topical information is available on the Internet that I have no time, or need for daily papers.

Monday, 11 April 2011

Burning Books

I dislike burning books, preferring to give away unwanted books. The nearest I've come to burning one was when I threw away a book of essays by Ayn Rand, unwilling to inflict it on any friend and fearing that, if I gave it away to a charity shop, someone might buy it and believe what she said.

However I should not try to prevent anyone burning a book that belonged to them, provided they did so where there was no danger of it setting light to anything else.

If someone printed out a copy of the Philosophy Notes from my website and burnt those, I should be disappointed, though I might also be flattered to have provoked so extreme a reaction. I should certainly not be outraged or inclined to riot. Such over-reaction strikes me as ridiculous.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Early Apple Blossom

The apple blossom is appearing early as, in an earlier blog, I suggested it might.

I've just noticed that the blossom on my Beauty of Bath is starting to come out.

My reference book (Morgan and Richards The Book of Apples) gives 9th May as the optimum date for pollination of that variety. I assume that is the time the flowers are all completely open, which may not be for a day or two yet, but the tree is still at least three weeks ahead of schedule.

Once again, Spring has come early, and I have no complaint.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Water as a slimming Food

I recently noticed an article in the Scientific American suggesting that drinking water before meals helps one to lose weight. Strictly speaking we should say 'lose mass'; some weight could be lost by living on top of a mountain and all of it could be lost by living in orbit, so I'll use 'mass' hereafter.

The recommended consumption is half a litre of water before each meal, which would be a lot for me; usually I drink about a sixth of a litre in the course of a meal, so I'm trying to drink another sixth of a litre before each meal, and shall report the results, if any, in due course. So far I've found I seem to eat slightly less, not in the main course, but in the oddments I eat afterwards.

Several years ago I replaced puddings by an apple, a pear, a banana and an orange. For the last two days I've omitted the banana, and I've also reduced my cheese intake and have eaten the cheese on its own instead of with biscuits.

From a homoeopathic standpoint, water should make one gain mass, because water without additives is a homoeopathic solution of nothing. As eating nothing would produce mass reduction, it's homoeopathic effect should be the opposite.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Home Made Raisins

Quite unintentionally, I've just made some raisins.

On examining an aged bunch of grapes that I'd neglected for a week or so, I discovered that the grapes had turned into raisins, just like the raisins one buys from the shops.

Perhaps I'll try to make prunes from this Summer's plum crop, provided there is one.

What else might I make ? Readers of this blog are invited to make suggestions.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Disposing of Tyrants

With several surplus leaders who seem likely to lose power soon, it seems a good time to decide what to do with them.

Recent practice has been inconsistent. Some are put on trial, others allowed into government, like the former IRA leaders (they aren't former rulers but had sufficient power to merit similar treatment). In Chile Pinochet was persuaded to relinquish power in exchange for an amnesty, but then various people tried to put him on trial.

A good general rule would be that those who step down voluntarily should be allowed a fairly comfortable house arrest in a stately home in some country willing to keep an eye on them, but those who fight for power to the bitter end should perish in that end.

Above all we need consistency, though the many borderline cases make that hard to achieve.

Monday, 28 March 2011

Another Early Spring

I've just noticed that one of my plum trees is coming into flower. The gardening books, which base their judgements on the experience of past generations, suggest April as the usual time for plums and cherries to flower, with apples following in May. I shall be interested to see when my apple blossom appears.

At the time I thought that last November's snow and the cold December that followed could indicate a cold Winter of the sort I grew up to expect. Not so apparently.

If it goes on like this for another 50 years, it will start to look like climate change, a change for the better in my judgement, though I shan't be around to enjoy it.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Dining on Iodine ?

In several recent news broadcasts I've heard 'iodine' pronounced to rhyme with 'dine', suggesting that some media folk completed their school-days without acquiring avoided even a smattering of science.

Iodine, together with its companions fluorine, chlorine and bromine, should be quite prominent in even an elementary course in Chemistry, and iodine is also used in Biology to test for starch. It would be a feeble education in which it is never mentioned.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

A Strange Obsession with Faces

I've often been irritated by television reporting in which the centre of the picture is occupied by a reporter's face, instead of the events being reported.

I was particularly infuriated by part of the BBC 24 hour news programme this evening. There was a press conference in which a military spokesman reported on events in Libya, illustrating his remarks with a series of slides. Only occasionally did the programme allow us to see a slide; usually, when he referred to a slide, the television picture ignored the slide and continued to show us his face.

If they must focus on the speaker, why just on his face? Why not on his hands to see if he's fidgeting nervously, his feet to see if he's shuffling, or his crotch to show his state of arousal?

Friday, 18 March 2011

Praising Wine Gums

Wine gums are very effective cough sweets; not much inferior to the remedies that are claimed to act on the brain to dull the cough reflex, and markedly superior to the cough sweets that work by soothing the throat.

I recently bought some wine gums to test the hypothesis that they do not taste of wine; they don't. When I contracted a cough I found that sucking them almost completely eliminated the urge to cough while the wine gum lasted, and they last a gratifying long time.

I suspect they contain a lot of gelatine, some sugar and a little citric acid, or perhaps tartaric acid. Perhaps gelatine has some medicinal value. That is an example of what C. S. Peirce would have called an 'abduction' - a generalisation with little support so far, that may still be worth testing.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Counting Calories

I've starting using the electronic kitchen scales to estimate the energy content of food.

An interesting conclusion is that just one slice of brown bread, with butter and marmalade, is about 240 kilo calories, about an eighth of my daily requirement and enough energy to lift something weighing a ton to a height of a hundred metres 1.

35 grams of bread accounted for 90 k cals, 11 grams of margarine for 77 k cals, and 30 g of marmalade for about 75 k cals. I spread margarine quite thinly; many people would use twice as much. Some people use low calorie margarine substitutes. Those contain extra water, for which the manufacturers charge extra, and I suspect that people who use them spread them so thickly that their energy intake (at about 5 k cals per gram) is even greater than it would be if they used ordinary margarine or butter.

Incidentally, note how many people say just 'calorie' instead of 'kilo calorie', thus wishfully dividing their intake by 1000.

1 Originally I had that as just one metre, but realised my error while checking the calculation in bed the night after posting. I have always been a little accident prone, alas.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Delighted by Drizzle

I planned to spend much of the day in the garden shredding a vast accumulation of prunings. When I found it was drizzling I was delighted to have an excuse to do nothing in particular indoors instead.

Am I becoming very lazy, or just indulging a laziness that I've always had? I wonder if that matters ?

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

A Plea for Footnotes

Irritating though they can be, I much prefer footnotes to the alternatives.

I'm reading a book 1 that puts all the notes between the last chapter and the index.

If I want to read a note I must therefore start by turning back, page by page, until I find the beginning of the chapter to find the chapter number, then turn to the end of the book and browse through the notes until I find the heading for the relevant chapter, all the time having to keep my place in the text, and only then, at the third stage, can I read the note I want.

Are such notes meant to be read, or are they just a pretence at scholarship?

1Graham Farmelo The Strangest Man about Paul Dirac, an excellent book, apart from the notes.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Blood, Butter and Deep Cellars

The text of a talk I gave to the Leicester U3A Science group last month is now on my web site

Incidentally, a fault on the server put my web site out of action last night, but don't be discouraged; it appeared to be working normally by midday today.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Taming a DVD Writer

I'd always had trouble with DVD writers, never succeeding in getting them to behave, as they are supposed to, like a disk drive to which one can just drag and drop whenever one feels like it.

Several years ago I bought an external hard drive and have relied on that for backup, but I recently decided to try again with a DVD.

I formatted in the way that is supposed to make it behave like a disk drive, and for a while copying seemed to proceed, though rather slowly. Then there was a message saying the disk was read only and nothing could be written to it. Note that the message did not say the disk was full; less than a tenth was used.

I checked all the settings carefully, and finally realised that the drive was set to the wrong zone. I changed the setting to Zone 2, for Britain, and thereafter things have worked as they are supposed to.

The zoning system is only one of many cases where tiresome organisations introduce complications to stop us doing as we please with our own property - in this case to stop people using in one part of the world pre-recorded DVD's bought somewhere else.

I sometimes wonder if we could do away with intellectual property altogether.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Valentine's Day

I've never received, sent, or been inclined to send a Valentine's card, and find it all very puzzling.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The Supreme Court

I'm not an enthusiast for the Supreme Court.

The final court of appeal used to be the House of Lords. I thought of that as a symbol that, as Parliament creates laws, it should have the last word about their interpretation.

Of course it was only the Law Lords who heard appeals, so the role of Parliament was purely symbolic, but a symbol may be better than nothing.

I should have preferred a change in the opposite direction, by making the final arbiter a group of parliamentarians who were not all lawyers.

Laws tend to be drafted by lawyers who produce laws of extreme complexity that require highly paid lawyers to interpret them, and which usually have what are called 'loopholes' which must eventually be blocked by creating even greater complexity.

I don't think lawyers deliberately make laws complicated so that they can earn substantial fees interpreting them, but I suspect that their experience of the financial consequences makes complicated law less repellent to lawyers than it is to the rest of us.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Worrying about Woodland

I can't take seriously the protests about Government plans to sell woodland owned by the Forestry Commission.

The function of government is to do the things we need doing but cannot do by individual effort. Growing trees is something individuals can do perfectly well. I'm growing eleven trees in my own modest suburban garden, and most of my neighbours grow several.

I suspect that people worry that if forests are sold we shall lose control over them. However, when the Government is involved the connection between ownership and control is very loose. Government property is supervised by groups of civil servants who will gradually develop interests of their own, so that the assets in their charge may be administered as much in their interest as in that of the public.

In one respect public property is harder for Government to control than private property. There is a section of the public that is inclined to defend any state enterprise just because it is a state enterprise, while there is no similar body of opinion to defend private enterprises against Government regulation.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

What Counts as News?

Yesterday, tired of hearing from the BBC the same news about Egypt that I'd heard the day before, I switched the television to Russia Today.

I was surprised to hear a story about a large anti-Muslim demonstration and counter demonstration in Luton. I don't think that was even mentioned by the BBC, and I did watch for it when I listened to the BBC news later in the day.

I wonder if someone decided that it would be better if we didn't know anything about it.

What else might they be keeping from us?

Sunday, 30 January 2011

Afraid to say 'always'

I'm puzzled by '24/7' for 'all the time'

If it is necessary to supplement '24 hours per day' by adding '7 days per week', we need to supplement that in turn by '52 weeks per year'.

If we don't need the 52, we could drop the 7 as well and say '24' for '24 hour per day'

Even easier would be '1' for the proportion of the time the speaker claims to be available, though anyone who likes to show off with numbers could say '3.1*107', the interpretation of which I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Seasonal Sentimentality

This morning I spotted the first snowdrops of the year, stimulating a feeling that 'Spring is in the air'.

Even when I reflect that Spring is months away, I still feel a little reassured.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Our Prime Minister Applies His Mind to Education.

Watching a televised meeting addressed by Mr. Cameron, I heard him say:

"Sometimes I think we should take everything out of the curriculum except for food and sport"

Has he forgotten sex ?

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Too Young to be Soldiers

A few days ago I heard someone protesting against the recruitment of 16 year-olds into the Army.

Alexander the Great commanded an army in battle at 16. It would have been a foolhardy person who told him he was too young.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Let's have Christmas in the Summer.

I'm always glad when the Christmas and New Year holidays are over. With two bank holiday weekends, preceded by a couple of weeks when the shops are uncomfortably busy, and separated by a few days of semi holiday, it is a uniquely messy holiday. This year it seems to be lingering even longer than usual.

Even today, the 3rd of January, buses were running only a Sunday service and the market was closed, though all the city centre shops were open and busy.

It is odd that the longest period when nearly everyone is on holiday should be in the Winter. If it were transferred to the Summer we should not risk frostbite while waiting for infrequent and crowded buses, fewer people would feel a need to travel to somewhere warmer, and those who did would be less likely to be frustrated by the weather.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Chrome takes the lead

Google Chrome is now the most popular browser among visitors to my web site.

Figures for the last month are:

Chrome: 40%
Windows Explorer: 26%
Firefox: 24%

I do most of my browsing with Chrome, so my visits will have biased the result a little, but I usually visit my site only to check alterations, and when I do that I usually use Seamonkey.